Special needs education funding for Waltham cut by council

Waltham Forest Council will cut funding for special needs education despite parent protests and a recommendation from councillors to delay.

On March 19, the cabinet voted to reduce Special Education Needs and Disability (SEND) funding for schools to help plug a more than £5 million gap in the council’s finances.

Top-up funding will be cut by 10 per cent for students in the lowest two bands of need, which parents fear will lead to mainstream schools excluding special-needs children.

The cabinet chose not to follow the recommendation of the Children and Families Scrutiny Committee to delay the decision, continue to lobby government for more money and seek alternative sources of funding.

Campaign group Waltham Forest SEND Crisis, who previously claimed the council’s consultation was unlawful, suggested they may follow through with their threat of a judicial review in the High Court.

Cllr Grace Williams, cabinet member for children, young people and families, said the council takes its SEND responsibilities “extremely seriously” but needed to tackle its £5.3 million deficit.

She said: “The Government has recently changed the rules which means we are not permitted to top up the High Needs Block from our general funding, but this is money we do not have even if we were permitted to do so.

“We have lobbied the Government extensively and have received additional funding for SEND in the last year, but the number of people we need to support at current funding levels continues to be greater than the amount of funding we receive. 

“We cannot continue as we are, so have taken the only option open to us and made the difficult decision to make changes to the way the High Needs Block is allocated.

“The Schools Forum has agreed this is the best course of action and we have consulted extensively on these proposals with parents and schools, deferring the decision for six months to ensure we examined all the options. 

“We are confident that our engagement with schools means that all children who currently receive support and those entering the system will receive what they need under these proposals.

“These changes will ensure that our funding system is fair and can be sustained.”

A report presented to the cabinet explained the deficit was caused by rising demand and the government extending the cut-off for support to age 25 with no extra funding. 

At the Children and Families Scrutiny Committee meeting on March 12, five parents from Waltham Forest Send Crisis spoke passionately against the cuts.

Coco Lenik, whose daughter has Down’s Syndrome and is in band F, the second lowest banding, said the “just over £15,000” she receives fails to cover the cost of her support.

She accused the council of “shirking responsibility” by expecting schools to “make up the shortfall”, which she said could mean mainstream schools refuse or exclude special needs students.

“This cut will only segregate our children, who can and do make great progress in mainstream schools if they are allowed”, she said.

“Our children fight enough battles in their lives, they need their borough on their side.”

Stephanie Earle, who teaches in a special school, feared the cuts would lead to more students going into specialist schools already struggling to cope with limited resources and staff.

She said: “Our budget is so limited that cutting any further could have devastating impacts on our children. We have trimmed off everything we can.”

Ken Barlow told the committee: “Do not kid yourselves that cuts will not mean a reduction in the standards of the current provision.

“My five-year-old son is autistic and is not getting the care he needs. History will judge the decisions you make now.”

John Hernandez, vice-chair of the Schools Forum, said: “Anyone that says dropping funding won’t affect the support children receive doesn’t know what they are talking about.”

But he said the proposed model was the “most pragmatic response” and would allow schools to continue to support children by moving money from other areas. 

A report presented to the committee stated no mainstream school would lose more than one per cent of its funding under the new proposed model.

A band E child’s funding would reduce by £843 in primary school and £714 in secondary school, while a band F child’s funding would reduce by £1,518 in primary school and £1,389 in secondary school.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter